Cemetery Ride

Listen to the poet read this poem aloud

My new copper-colored bicycle
is looking pretty fine under a blue sky
as I pedal along a sandy path
in the Palm Cemetery here in Florida,

wheeling past the headstones of the Lyons,
the Campbells, the Vesers, and the Davenports,
Arthur and Ethel, who outlived him by eleven years
I slow down even more to notice,

but not so much as to fall sideways on the ground.
And here’s a guy named Happy Grant
next to his wife Jean in their endless bed.
Annie Sue Simms is right there and sounds

a lot more fun than Theodosia S. Hawley.
And good afternoon, Emily Polasek,
and to you too, George and Jane Cooper,
facing each other in profile, two sides of a coin.

I wish I could take you all for a ride
in my wire basket on this glorious April day,
not a thing as simple as your name, Bill Smith,
even trickier than Clarence Augustus Coddington.

Then how about just you, Bernice Owens?
Would you gather up your voluminous skirts
then ride sidesaddle on the crossbar
and tell me what happened between 1863 and 1931?

I’ll even let you ring the silver bell.
But if you’re not ready, I can always ask
Amanda Collier to rise from her long sleep
beneath the swaying gray beards of Spanish moss

and ride with me along these sandy paths
so I can listen to her strange laughter
as some crows flap in the blue overhead
and the spokes of my wheels catch the dazzling sun.

Presented by

Billy Collins’s new collection, Horoscopes for the Dead, will be published early next year. He served as the U.S. poet laureate from 2001 to 2003.

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